2021 marks the 60th Anniversary of the Stuntmen’s Association.
Founded in 1961 by Loren Janes, a stunt double for Steve McQueen, and Richard Geary, a double for Robert Vaughn, the idea was to professionalize the world of stunts.
Janes and Geary wanted a space for stunt performers to speak with a single voice and share ideas and concerns. Soon, 50 stuntmen gathered and the Stuntmen’s Association was born.
Bob Herron, one of the charter members with over 342 credits to his name (“Airwolf,” “The Green Hornet” and “Stagecoach”), joined Alex Daniels, president of the Stuntmen’s Association, Terry Leonard (“Romancing the Stone,” “Transporter 2”) and Conrad Palmisano (“Doom 3,” “Remington Steele”) to celebrate 60 years of stunts, reflect on the impact of the association and discuss awards recognition.
Bob, you are a charter member of the Stuntmen’s Association. Take us back to why you started the association?
Bob Herron: I started it because there wasn’t a network for the stuntmen to organize with each other; we were all separate. And when I started the organization, it started to bring the stunt people together.
How does it feel to be celebrating 60 years?
Conrad Palmisano: I take my hat off to the founding members and the men who professionalized the stunt industry. Once you became a member, your respectability increased, the kind of movies you did were a higher grade. These men stood up, and I’m happy. So, thank you to Bobby, Loren and all.
Terry Leonard: Back in the day, if you weren’t a member of the association, they did not look at you as a hardcore stunt person. Bob and the members back in the day propelled the image forward where stuntmen are looked at as professionals and it’s due to the work Bobby did.
What is it about stunts that you love so much, given the risk factor?
Herron: Obviously I have a hearing problem from too many gunshots over the years and a few accidents. My stepfather rented horses to the studios and I started wrangling them for the actors and the stuntmen to ride, and it made more money. I thought, ‘That’s the way I want to go.’ I’d watch the actors ride them and realized that was for me. Alex gave me my last job, I was in my ‘90s and they wanted an older guy, so that worked out fine.
Alex, you have to share that story.
Alex Daniels: It was for “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” I’ve been stunt coordinator for that for over 18 years. Three years ago, they had a spot where they were doing a gag that required someone older. They asked, ‘How do we make up someone to look like this older guy to do that and do this stunt?’ I suggested Bobby, and he came in.
What about you, Terry, why do you keep doing what you do? What was your driving factor?
Leonard: The adventure. I’ve been all over the world. I’m paying the price physically, but it’s the adrenaline rush. There is nothing in the world like sitting on a horse or a car or doing whatever it is you’re doing to do. There’s that minute prior and they say ‘Roll camera’ and you get in the zone. I compare it to being in the tunnel at the Superbowl. There can be a big stunt or a little stunt. That moment is what keeps me coming back.
Palmisano: We live our lives between two words: “action” and “cut.” When you start, they don’t give you the death-defying stunts. You might get knocked down or a flying stunt, and as you progress, they start hiring you. But it is the adrenaline rush. Richard Burton once complained to me. He said, “I do a soliloquy of Shakespeare and I don’t get anything out of the crew. You fall down a flight of stairs, everyone applauds.” I said, “What are you complaining about, you’re married to Elizabeth Taylor.”
Daniels: It’s the joy we get from living this exciting life. We are the hero in the background. I hit the ground, but I get up a bit slower now. It’s all about the adrenaline.
Why is Hollywood so slow to recognize your work after all these years?
Daniels: It makes no sense. When the awards show those promotional videos, they usually show clips from action pieces that the stunt people are doing and something worked on by a second unit director who is usually a stunt person. It’s bizarre they keep shutting us out. One of the things they’ve said at the Academy is that they don’t have a large enough representation of membership within the Academy to warrant an award in this category. On the other hand, so many of the people in this business are happy being the unsung hero. And don’t necessarily want an award. We’re proud of what we do to create the illusion of these characters and we’re bringing so much to it.
Palmisano: The Academy, back in the day, was trying to stop the unionization of Hollywood. The Academy would negotiate salaries for actions and that’s part of the reason that stuntmen are in the Screen Actor’s Guild; they would go out to the stuntmen ranches down on those long dirt roads, to have meetings because studio security would follow people to find out who was trying to form a union. We were involved with the Guild from the beginning, and the Academy doesn’t want to form another category for whatever reason.
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